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Smoke pours from the stacks at the Portlands Energy Centre in Toronto, January 15, 2009. An environmental analyst says a new report revealing that oil and gas production has become the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions adds further weight to calls for Ottawa to regulate the sector.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The federal government will spend as much as $2-million to review the "relevance and performance" of the key pillar of its greenhouse gas reduction strategy – one critics say is piecemeal and has failed to put Canada on track to meet its emissions reduction targets.

Environment Canada on Tuesday issued a request for proposals for an "evaluation" of Canada's Clean Air Regulatory Agenda (CARA). Created in 2006, the first year of Stephen Harper's tenure as Prime Minister, CARA supports and finances emissions-reduction initiatives in several departments, plus research and emissions reporting, and other projects.

CARA's two key regulatory achievements have been tougher emissions standards for vehicles and coal power plants. Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq frequently mentions both. In these areas, however, Ottawa is largely following the lead of other jurisdictions – provinces and the United States – and CARA has yet to tackle the booming oil-and-gas sector, in which the government expects emissions to surge by 23 per cent between 2011 and 2020.

With a decision on the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline due by mid-June, Ottawa has rolled out several green-tinged announcements in recent weeks, such as renewed land conservation efforts and tougher pipeline safety standards. But oil-and-gas emissions regulations have been delayed, and the third-party CARA review will not cover this area.

"It will actually be a review of what is in place, and what is in place is very, very little," NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said, later adding: "It's incredible to me we will have this review system for such a paltry regulatory regime on greenhouse gases."

Liberal critic John McKay said the Harper government's track record on emissions reduction has been a "miserable failure," and has left Canada with little environmental credibility in its push for the Keystone XL pipeline project to carry crude to the U.S. gulf coast.

"You have nothing to say to President [Barack] Obama because you've not been serious about negotiating GHG emissions [limits]," Mr. McKay said, adding the delay is "appalling from an environmental standpoint, and it's appalling from a political standpoint and it's appalling from an economic standpoint."

The government posted a request for proposals from audit and consulting firms on Tuesday for the CARA review, which it estimates will cost as much as $2-million. Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson said a review is required every five years, and the previous one was completed in 2010.

CARA was renewed in 2011 at an estimated cost of $252-million over the first two years, part of the government's five-year, $1.5-billion Clean Air Agenda. The Conservative government has pledged to reduce total annual GHG emissions to about 612 megatonnes by 2020, but is on track to come in well over that – 734 megatonnes – due largely to growing oil-and-gas emissions, which will make up 28 per cent of Canada's total by 2020.

Ms. Leslie said the Conservative government is focusing on "minor achievements" and ignoring the bigger picture.

"It's going to be a review of two regulations – [vehicle and coal power emissions]. It's not a review of, 'Are we meeting our goal'? We're not. 'Will we meet it?' We won't," she said. "Maybe we don't need a review of those things because they're so patently obvious, but it's not actually an assessment of how we're doing overall."